Farm Life Blog

Farm Life

Let’s Hit It

05.30.19

It’s almost June and we are back at it! Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Farmer’s Market season for us. We sell at the Boxed and Burlap Farmers Market every Friday morning from 8 – 1. It is SUCH a fun group of vendors, and really is a fabulous variety of products. The unending rain and cold temperatures have thrown a wrench into our flower production, so we won’t have any flowers ready this first week. It’s extremely disappointing, but so far out of my control that I have to let it go. There are many people FAR worse off than we are from severe weather this season, so I’m not going to complain about it. We are looking forward to a fantastic season with even more flowers this year AND we can’t wait to introduce some new products throughout the summer. 

Since I last wrote, we lost our sweet Patsy and her unborn calf. We found her early one morning, a few days after she had gotten stuck laying down in the pasture – I wrote about it here. That same thing happened the day that she died – it looked like she could not get herself back up for some unknown reason. Anthony and I were completely devastated. We didn’t sleep more than an hour or a two at a time for weeks after she died, because we had to keep checking on the other three cows. Patsy was only three weeks from calving. We had cameras installed on the barn and an alert set up on my phone every time there was motion detected. My poor brother came to visit at the height of our craziness – we were sleep deprived and sad and nervous. We understand that this is what happens when you farm, but this experience really knocked us to our knees. It has taken us a long time to work through it, but the successful arrival of three new calves has definitely helped. 

Our sweet Patsy
Patsy’s ear tag

A few days after Patsy died, Anthony made a video about her and what she meant to us. It’s a heartbreaker and I asked him to put it away for a while so we could try to move forward. But I think it’s such a sweet tribute and it was important for him to make it to help him get through it all. Watch it below: 

 

And then there were three…
We try everything we can to make the preggo ladies happy. I think this makes me just as happy

June was the first cow to calve. We could tell that she was acting differently that afternoon, but still nothing around 9:30 that night. Anthony decided to do a nighttime check once more, just before we went to bed. He called me from the pasture. I could hear him running and since we were both so emotionally raw and traumatized from Patsy, I panicked and asked him what was wrong. He yelled “I was shining the flashlight out in the pasture, saw three sets of eyes and THEN I SAW ONE SET OF LITTLE EYES! WE’VE GOT A BABY OUT HERE” I ran outside and this is what we saw. June did a great job and did it all on her own. (thank goodness)

Emmylou was born at 11:00 pm. Anthony just had a hunch

Meet EmmyLou, the smallest and the first born this year. She has a HUGE personality. Even though she’s the tiniest, she’s the leader of the three babies. 

First baby of the year – June’s Emmylou
Their matching spots are so freakin adorable!

Next up was Loretta – she also gave birth to a heifer calf and we named her Tammy Wynette. Her long legs and light brown coat are beautiful! 

Dolly was the last to calve. We were able to see it happen, unlike the other two and I can tell you this: I’m OK with not seeing it again. Dolly was pretty big and about a week past her due date and it took her a while to push that baby out. She gave birth to a bull calf, and did it on her own, but it took quite a bit of effort and was pretty stressful to watch. We were wondering how Dolly would act with her baby and she was at first EXTREMELY protective – she wouldn’t even let the other calves or cows around her. She’s loosened up a bit and everyone – for now – is a great big happy family. Meet the boy:

Our three babies

These calves are half Angus and half Wagyu. We are turning our bloodline over to Wagyu, so in two years, Tammy and EmmyLou will give birth to full blooded Wagyu calves. These heifer calves are now permanent members of our herd. Dolly’s bull calf will be raised for beef. This was the whole purpose and goal in our minds when we first became cow owners. I know it will not be easy, but it’s part of our business plan and will be something we offer from our farm. He will be around for about two years. Yesterday our vet saw him and said he would be beautiful for showing. People often said the same thing about his mother. 

As far as the OG of the farm, Gigi has made a full recovery from her winter injury of dislocating her elbow. She’s got a little hop to her step now and is a bit slower, but she still jumps in the UPS truck every time it arrives and is anxiously awaiting the opening of the pool. 

Gigi!
Walter

The barn cats have been set free and LOVE being out and about. It is so much fun watching them explore the farm. The cows are especially curious about them. Fingers crossed they stay away from the road and start getting rid of our rodent population!

Sadly, none of our bees survived the winter, so we’ve got new bees and so far, so good. We’ve got a few hives at a new off-site location.

We can’t wait to see what that honey tastes like and how different it will be from the honey on our farm. 

I am always trying to be better at balancing work and fun – I am not that great at it, but Anthony definitely has it figured out. We’ve started making time for more off-farm activities and I am so ready to enjoy life outside of the farm this summer. I say it every year, but this year I KNOW it’s going to happen! Pictured below is the first of lots of visitors to the farm this year. My sister Cathy joined us at a Mumford & Sons concert in Milwaukee. 

Lots of people have been visiting the babies – this is my friend Rebecca and Dolly

My sweet little brother Mike offered to come out again this year from Las Vegas. The deal is – we pay for his plane ticket and he comes and fixes/builds/teaches us how to fix – whatever we need on the farm. How completely generous is that? Keep in mind, he did this for all three of his sisters this year. I know he worries because we have so many things that need work, but that’s just how it is with a property like this. I LOVE the fact that I can walk around our farm and see all of the things he has helped us with. The coolest thing was that he brought his drone and took lots of pictures of our property. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay him for everything he has worked on. I’m thinking I can start with sending him a fancy bottle of Rum, though…

My brother fixing EVERYTHING!
The cow brush I, I mean, THEY have been dreaming of…

We *FINALLY* got the chickens we have been talking about for three years. We have 37 little (well, not so little anymore) chickens running around in a small pen in the basement right now. We are getting everything together today to move them out into the big time – the chicken house! I was starting to think it would never happen. We got them much later than anticipated due to the polar vortex, so they won’t be laying until August. But for now, they are endlessly entertaining and adorable. Even though they poop everywhere – chicken poop is MUCH more manageable than cow poop. And WAYYYYY smaller. As I’ve said before, farming is mostly about cleaning up poop and trying to keep things alive. That’s it, in a nutshell. 

Our first foray into chicken keeping
It’s hard to remember them this little

Of course, the thing that I’m most excited about this Summer are the flowers. I’m trying some new varieties and have added many more. I’m hoping the weather cooperates and the bugs don’t suck the life out of both me and the flowers. Wish me luck! We’ve had some strikingly beautiful blooms so far this year. 

Pink Sunrise Muscari
As always, beautiful farm fashion
Gigi and I were so happy to be back outside, working in the dirt

We are overjoyed at being on the other side of calving season, baby chick season and the snowy season. It’s time for flowers and Farmer’s Markets and FUN! Anthony and I have been toying with the idea of turning our farm into an event space, so this Summer will be filled with painting and planting and improving and lots and lots of dreaming. So cheers to a long, prosperous and beautiful Summer – I know we all really deserve it. I would love to hear all about your Summer plans! 

Farm Life

Welcome to farming

03.21.19

“Welcome to farming” my neighbor’s wife yelled, as she left through our barn door.

It happened yesterday afternoon, when I got a text from a different neighbor that said “Hey, just drove by your place and saw one of your cows down. You might want to check on her.” I looked out the window and saw all four of the girls lying in the pasture. They are sleeping much more these days, as we are less than a month away from everyone calving. Patsy’s head was on the ground. I almost messaged my neighbor back to say “Oh, that’s O.K., that’s just how they look when they pass out.” But for some reason I decided to go outside, put my boots on and walk down to the pasture.

Every once in a while Anthony and I will call out to each other and say “Loretta’s down” or”Junie’s back up.” And we do that mostly because it’s pretty freaky to see a cow laying all the way down with their head flat on the grass. Quite frankly, they look like they’re dead.

I saw Patsy laying down when I was on the way and I yelled out “Patsy – GET UP.” And then I heard her moaning and saw all four of her hooves in the air. I started running and got to her – I saw she had crapped all over the place, she was moaning and her eyes were bulging out. She had basically turtled herself, but because her belly is so round and full of a calf, she couldn’t right herself. I started trying to push her when she was rolling around and that was absolutely ridiculous. She’s at least 1400 pounds. I’m not sure how I thought I could move her, but I had so much adrenaline running through me, I wasn’t thinking I wouldn’t be able to move her. I called Anthony from my cell and told him to meet me in the pasture RIGHT NOW.

He got to the pasture and I called my neighbor Kevin and told him what was going on, I wasn’t sure what to do. He was too far away, but told us to try and get her feet under her by bending her legs at the knees. Anthony started doing it and the other cows finally noticed something was going on. At that same moment, yet ANOTHER neighbor and his wife showed up out of nowhere. My neighbor’s wife yelled to me “Do you have a halter – go and get it!” I started running up to the barn to get it when I heard them yelling “She’s up!” I stopped and turned around and saw Patsy standing up.

Then even more fun began. Junie started kicking her legs in the air and running around. That set everyone else off. Patsy was walking quickly ( I think she was still in a daze after her episode) Loretta was running and Dolly started chasing me. I started running away and she kept chasing me. I was half laughing, half running and looking over my shoulder, expecting her to stop. Then she started chasing my neighbor and his wife. When he stopped to try to calm her down (he and his wife show cattle and own LOTS of cattle and have years and years of experience with cows), I yelled “She’s mean, WATCH OUT!” Then he and his wife started running and hopped up on a gate to get out of Dolly’s way.

Dolly, when she was much kinder and gentler

I’m pretty sure I was just swearing a lot at this point, and my neighbor’s wife (I keep calling her that because I don’t remember her name) yelled out “Welcome to farming!”

That really struck a nerve with me. Welcome to farming? We’ve been living on this farm for 4 years. We’ve had calves born, we’ve raised bees and extracted our own honey and have successfully grown and sold cut flowers for the past two years, amongst other things. But she IS RIGHT. Sometimes – lots of times – we don’t have a clue as to what we are doing. We rely on our neighbors and friends to help us with so much. And we are soft when it comes to our animals.

Patsy as a new Mom

We are just poseurs, “hobby farmers”, amateurs and ridiculously green at this farming thing and yesterday was a tiny reminder of that. This is the reason why, when people ask the size of our property, I say “Oh, just 5 acres”. Because we AREN’T real farmers. We don’t own hundreds of acres, we only have 2 cows and 2 heifers. We don’t grow crops, don’t own tractors and don’t even have a damn rooster crowing at 4 in the morning. But we are in love with this farm life and we are determined to learn. To try and figure out how to do what we are doing, at whatever scale that may be.

The greatest reminder in all of this? How unbelievably generous and caring our neighbors are. If not for them, who knows how long Patsy would have laid in the field. I’m still so worried about these girls – and I will admit to waking up at 2 a.m. this morning and walking out to the pasture to make sure everyone was still alive. AND looking outside every 20 minutes from 5 a.m. on. AND contemplating not leaving the house today for fear of coming back and finding one of them stuck on their sides again, or something even worse. But I’m trying to fake being a farmer and letting go, figuring what will be, will be. And if I’m here and I can intervene, then so be it. If I can’t, then that’s just what is going to happen.

Welcome to (our version of) farming.

Farm Life

Four years in Wisconsin

11.26.18

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of our fourth year of living in Wisconsin. (revisit year one here)  We are still just as much, if not more, in love with Wisconsin, our farm and all of the fabulous people we’ve met. I figured this anniversary would be a great time for us to get caught up on what’s going on around these parts. 

When we last left off, we were just kicking off our second season selling at Farmer’s Markets.

This year we doubled the size of our flower growing area and spent more time trying to figure everything out. Having planted a seed in the ground for the first time EVER three years ago, there is still so much to learn. And THAT is why we moved here. We are challenged every single day with learning something new, meeting someone new, or trying something new. It keeps us from becoming stagnant and Anthony and I have both learned that we need things like that in order to stay sane and happy. On to the updates. 

New additions: We recently adopted 3 barn cats. If you are a fan of our Instagram stories, you may have already met them. We found a woman who is part of a foundation that re-homes feral cats. She has them vaccinated, spayed and neutered and does her part to keep the feral cat population down.  We have had them for about a month and are keeping them in our calf barn until they get acclimated and comfortable on our farm. They are very sweet and they actually like humans, and we’ve had fun interacting with some new animals at our place. I’m really chomping at the bit to get more animals here – miniature donkeys, chickens, goats and rabbits are still on my list. But until I can figure out how to add more time to my day or how to balance things better, those animals are going to have to wait.

Dusty

Walter

Foxy Brown

Chicken House: We have gotten some help on a few more things that need to be finished in the chicken house. This project has stalled over and over and over again because Anthony and I cannot agree on anything – from what to do or how to do it. So then, nothing happens. There are now only a handful of things to be completed in order for us to get chickens. We need to put some poles in the ground around the run and attach netting so that it is completely covered. Anthony is in the process of building a shade structure to go inside the run. After those two things are finished, we’ve only got to get some waterers and feeders, put shavings on the ground inside and we should be good to go. I’m going to throw a party when the chicken house is finished. Plus, it’s so nice inside, I think the party can be held in the chicken house itself.

Bees: The bees are packed up and insulated for the season. It was a weird season for our bees – lots of rain, failing queens and the honey flow was quite late. We only got about 95 pounds of honey this year, which is a bit less than what we got last year. We are going to add some additional windbreaks to the sides this year to help with the terrible winds that come from all directions. Three out of the five hives we now have looked like they had bee activity when we wrapped them up. There might have been some shrew activity in the front of a couple of them, and I’m not feeling confident in all of the hives surviving the winter. I traveled a lot this fall, and some of the things that should have been done to the hives didn’t get done.. All we can do now is hope for the best and wait it out. AND learn from our mistakes this year and adjust next year.

Flowers: The flowers were incredible this year. Again, it was a weird year weather-wise – it warmed up early, then cooled down. We went from not having any rain for a month to rain almost every day for six weeks. I had a few flower growing failures and the bug pressure was unbelievable. I’m so afraid of spraying anything – I don’t want to hurt any of the pollinators and bring toxic things to our farm, but I also cannot keep losing everything I’ve invested so much time and money into. It’s not even tolerable to walk out near anything that’s growing on our farm – the corn borer beetles are EVERYWHERE.

Farmer’s Market: We loved everything about participating in both the Boxed and Burlap and Fontana Farmer’s Markets this year. Being a market vendor is no joke – I was harvesting on Mondays and Wednesdays, prepping and arranging everything on Thursdays, selling on Fridays; cutting and arranging more on Friday afternoons if necessary for Saturday’s market. Then selling on Saturdays, cleaning everything up on Sundays and starting over again on Monday. And that was just the flowers – that doesn’t include everything else going on at the farm. We eventually stopped selling in Fontana on Saturday’s so we could get a better handle on things and keep up with everything else. Our end goal is to be able to sell from our farm, instead of taking everything to market. That way we can enjoy our farm while other people come to visit and enjoy it too.

Loretta, enjoying the farm

Cow and heifers: All four of our girls were artificially inseminated in July AND all four of them were settled on the first try – which means we are pretty lucky. Our vet told us that he usually experiences about a 70% success rate, so 100% was a huge win in our books. We had them preg checked about 30 days after insemination just in case some of them did not get pregnant, so we could quickly inseminate again and keep all of them calving around the same time. The vet said he wanted to check all four of them again in about six weeks to make sure that they stayed pregnant. At that point in their pregnancy, ultrasound can be used to check pregnancy and reveal the gender of the calves. This was also exciting for us because then we would know and prepare for which babies would be raised for beef, and which ones would be kept for our herd. Dolly and Patsy are having bull calves, Loretta and June are having heifers. Translation – Dolly and Patsy’s male calves will be raised for beef (and no, they won’t be named) and Loretta and June’s female calves will stay on the farm and join our herd.

Greatest Dog of All Time – or GDOAT: Gigi turned eleven years old in November. She has definitely slowed down a bit, but still has lots of puppy left in her. She is our constant companion in most everything we do here, except when it comes to other animals. She wants to be the only one for us – which translates as the only animal that gets any attention from anyone.

Anthony and I basking in some much-needed lake time with friends

Add in a ton of visitors, Nellie’s Barn Sale, some time out on the lake, watercolor painting, new fencing and random interior design projects and you’ve got our summer and fall all wrapped up.

This winter will not only be a time for us to rest and reflect, but also a time for planning the future of our farm. We are both ready to take the next step in transforming Lucky Break into a destination farm and further defining what that means to us. Our friend Rick has warned us, more than a few times, to dream carefully in the Winter. It’s easy (especially for me) to dream up a multitude of things to take on as soon as the weather breaks in the Spring. I’m going to do my best to be realistic and not turn our farm into some sort of forced labor camp. I can’t wait to see what happens as we work our way up to year number 5.